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Environmental concerns are not solely the domain of big business polluters and a leading lawyer has warned small businesses that unless they get their green house in order, they could be taken to the cleaners.

Environment lawyer Elizabeth Wild, of Phillips Fox, said an environmental clean-up could cost a small business tens of thousands of dollars if it is contained to their own sites.

But if it leaks or spills off site it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wild says all businesses should be doing assessments of their potential to be a polluter or an environmental threat. All she had to do was walk on to a work site to see instantly whether a business was running enormous risks of being fined or, in some cases, put out of business.

“There was one case of a business I saw where there were rusted drums sitting outside, which is a ‘no no’ for the Environment Protection Authority,” Wild says.

“When I asked what they had in the drums, the employee said he did not know they were there when they bought the place. And don't think polluters can run away from the problem.”

State laws differ, but in NSW the party responsible for land contamination can be prosecuted at any time after the event.

“I had a client, a small property developer, who bought an old service-station site which was found to be so contaminated that it would cost $750,000 to put clean-up systems in place,” she says.

“And $100,000 would have to be spent each year to monitor the situation.”

The following lessons have come out of recent court cases. Disclose all relevant information to your consultant.

Tell your consultant if errors or inaccuracies appear in his report. Do not mislead or deceive your consultant.

“Many small businesses fail to comprehend the basic risks they pose to the environment,” Wild says.

“They don't even know the licences they must have under the law, such as a licence for the storage of dangerous goods.”

Check your state’s government EPA website for environmental legislation and regulation information. This should sound the alarm for proprietors to seek the assistance of an environmental consultant.

Published on: Tuesday, November 03, 2009

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